Flights to resume for family visits between refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria and Western Sahara Territory

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

We are pleased to announce that our Confidence Building Measures programme to facilitate family visits between refugees living in camps near Tindouf, Algeria, and their families in the Western Sahara Territory resumed today. The Confidence Building Measures is a strictly humanitarian and non-political programme in support of Sahrawi families that have been separated for more than 34 years.

We thank the Government of Morocco and the POLISARIO Front for supporting the resumption of this important humanitarian programme.

The first flight will carry 30 people (5 families) from Laayoune, Western Sahara Territory to the Smara refugee camp, near Tindouf, Algeria while 33 people (6 families) will travel from the Smara refugee camp to Laayoune later today. They will spend five days with their families before being transported back again.

From the beginning of the programme in 2004, a total of 12,635 Sahrawis have benefited from these family visits. A further 31,058 have registered and continue to wait for the opportunity to be reunited with their families after over three decades of separation.

The programme is conducted in cooperation with Morocco, the POLISARIO Front, as well as Algeria as the host country. UNHCR also works closely with the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) which provides the logistical support including aircraft transportation of the families.

UNHCR is planning to host a meeting in Geneva in February 2011 with all the parties to discuss the implementation of other components of the Confidence Building Measures programme which, when implemented, will benefit a larger number of Sahrawi families.